The new Blackie and the Rodeo Kings album, South, is something the band felt they had to do. Stephen Fearing has a longstanding solo career and is even half of Fearing and White with Irish artist Andy White, Colin Linden has his own solo career, become a sought after producer for the likes of Emmylou Harris, Diana Krawl, Leon Redbone and Lucinda Williams and even become the latest guitarist for Bob Dylan’s touring band. And Hamilton’s Tom Wilson has spent the better part of 2013 touring in support of his sophomore Lee Harvey Osmond album, the Folk Sinner. While the three members have their own musical career arcs, when they come together there is something special and how their music they love is oft created is what BARK wanted to capture on their latest recordings.
“Being middle-aged musicians, we have a certain amount of authority issues,” explains BARK’s Tom Wilson. “Authority issues come with any artist but once you hit your fifties, you get an attitude and you just want to do whatever you want to do whenever you want to do it. When we started this record down at Colin Linden’s Nashville studio, we were just playing songs together in a room just outside his kitchen. We played covers of ourselves and covers of songs we liked from Nick Lowe and Mountain. And then all of a sudden things started to sound really good and we started to try out a few new songs and as that evolved we started putting a new record together. It went from a collection of cover songs to something that had a voice for us. The way the record was sounding, we wanted to be writing songs for that sound. We ended up with South, and it represents a nice little movement in our careers where we can kind of play acoustic guitars, there’s no amplifiers, just an upright bass and some percussion and best of all it’s getting great reviews for us all across North America right now. We’re pretty pleased about that.
“The sound of the record is quite different because of the way it was recorded,” adds Wilson. “The idea of going acoustic, it’s almost boring. MTV was unplugging artists formally in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s but artists have been sitting in dressing rooms on in the back of tour busses and around the kitchen table their entire lives and careers, at least I have. So going unplugged is no big deal. Playing acoustic music around the fire has always been the way folk music and country music and Americana, it’s the way north Americans have communicated with each other musically so that’s nothing new. For us, this is the way we’ve been playing for twenty years in the dressing rooms so that’s the way we wanted to represent ourselves when it came to this release. It’s not about being acoustic or unplugged but more about the vibe of the record, that we could just be sitting around the kitchen table with a pot of coffee and a pack of smokes, singing some songs.”
With a loose and intimate vibe that oft includes quips and giggles in the midst of songs that often would be edited out for a formal recording, South keeps in that live unpredictable feeling of musicians just having fun making music they love. It’s that authenticity that fuels South and offers pure Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, rough-hewn and beautiful, thoughtful but with a rocking dynamic.
“It seems that the informality of how we went around it, people that didn’t pay much attention to BARK before are already paying attention because this is actually the way they wanted to hear the band for years,” notes Wilson. “We don’t write rock operas or folk operas, but the underlying thought that went around writing some of these songs is how migration has had a lot to do with political and cultural changes in North America — how family and religion has changed all because of the migration of the heart and the need to migrate for work. It was the migration of workers from the plantations of the south to find work in Chicago and Detroit that gave us Chicago blues, that gave us electric blues and that was one of the greatest cultural migrations that this continent will ever know; the migration of Mexicans coming to Southern California to pick grapes, which was a huge cultural migration that changed people’s lives. These migrations are important and being able to readdress them in 2014 is an interesting concept. That concept of people migrating, leaving home and building new homes and having to leave people they love and finding new people to love, that goes on every day. That’s why the album is called South. I slam my fist down on Colin Linden’s table and I talk about the migration of the heart and how it felt for a guy from Canada to be in Tennessee with the richness of the writing and the culture and the music and the movement of the people. It just had to be called South. We came south to find inspiration and a better life in music and we found it. That’s what we were doing in Nashville.”
Blackie and the Rodeo Kings are now set to tour in support of South, bringing the show to a variety of stops in Southern Ontario and the United States. Wilson and company hope to take their new approach in recording and do it up in a similar vibe for the live show this time out.
“We’re doing a two month tour and we’re going from Ajax, Ontario to Austin, Texas — talk about cultural diversity, you can’t get much different,” quips Wilson. “But you know what? As a young man, you hope that a few cute girls will want to listen to your music and as you get older, you just imagine that cute girls will listen to your music. But when you get to my age in your fifties — you kind of hope that cute girls will listen to your music so nothing really changes.
“We’re playing Burlington locally, but one of the most important shows we’re doing is at the Lighthouse Theatre in Port Dover,” continues Wilson. “We love playing highway 6; we call it the mystic highway. The influence that that highway has on Americana music and music all around the world is not written about but for BARK to be in Port Dover is like us being at the Mecca of where our musical influences come from.
“What we’re doing for this show is making it an evening with Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, there’s no opening act,” adds Wilson. “We’re going to come out on stage and literally sit around the kitchen table on stage with acoustic guitars and microphones. We’re going to bang out 45 minutes of whatever the heck we feel like at the time, which should be really fantastic. The second part of the show is still going to be acoustic based but it’s going to be a little bit more of a stand up Blackie and the Rodeo Kings performance. People always yell out their favourites and we’re pretty accommodating, you know? We like to make people feel like they’re a part of the show.”
Blackie and the Rodeo Kings perform on Wednesday, January 29 at 8pm at The Burlington Performing Arts Centre.
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